Israel is in turmoil.
It’s not just about judicial reform. That issue, at best, was a trigger, and at worst, a cover excuse. It’s not about the enlistment of haredim into the Israel Defense Forces. Or who sits where on buses (or planes). It’s not even the slogan of “Just Not Bibi.”
Something is obviously truly bothering significant elements within Israeli society. It is evident in the ongoing weekly protests and their social demographic makeup.
Anyone who has observed the protests will come to an, admittedly, generalization: that there are three major elements. The first are those of retirement age, from 55 and older. The second are late-20 and early-30-somethings who would appear to be in the fields of high-tech. The third is the staple of anti-occupation veterans, as well as LGBTQ activists. Teenagers are quite absent from the regular rallies, even during the summer months.
What is generating their enthusiasm to maintain the weekly rallies? What is propelling their commitment to marches? And, more importantly, what is causing their animosity, virulent rhetoric and acts of hatred? Smashing a car window and showering three young children with glass is not a normal activity. Shouting “Judeo-Nazi” at a young female parliamentary assistant after knocking into her with a bicycle until she cries is not normal. What is the underlying evil resident in their minds?
What is apparent is their publicity strategy, directed by Ilan Shiloah, is nakedly low-browed with appeals to emotion rather than any kind of rational argumentation. Their combative, personal harassment methods are directed not only at central actors such as politicians but anyone they view as “tainted.”
Politicians have been battered with flag poles, had their eardrums assaulted by klaxons, harassed at private affairs and identified as the worst enemy of the Jewish people. To justify their campaign, they simply declared that they were facing a regime change, a slide into dictatorship, and therefore, all is fair in their war tactics. It all began when trumped-up charges were leveled at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu starting in 2016, as well as questionably illegal methods by the State Prosecutor and Attorney General. The ensuing corruption trials have become the laughingstock of the judicial process. With those going nowhere and the Likud Party’s impressive electoral win last November, the privileged elites of Israel were in a bind. And so, they set out to disrupt democracy.
On March 27 in London, Ehud Barak explained at Chatham House that he and his friends saw a “regime change from top-down … trying to make Israel, basically, a dictatorship, or a non-democratic, kind of, entity. … It’s not Russia under Putin or Turkey under Erdoğan, but Poland under Kaczyński and Hungary under Orbán is exactly what they have in mind … we are not going to accept it. That doesn’t fit into our basic values and our collective psyche.” And it took off from there as a campaign of malicious malignment revved up.
It seems that the acting commander of the navy—reserve Lt. Col. Eyal Segev, who has stopped reporting for duty in protest—didn’t get that message. He wrote recently to the Israeli Naval Command that “Israel’s current government decided to perpetrate a coup against our system of government and turn Israel into a dictatorial regime. … The process … will quickly lead Israel to become a regime like Putin’s Russia or Erdoğan’s Turkey.”
In any case, the darkness in the thinking of the leading protest figures is descending into surrealism. In June, Brig. Gen. (res.) Nehemiah Dagan, a former Israeli Air Force pilot and chief education officer of the IDF, said: “I’m afraid that the way we’re going now we’ll end up in a country where secular or religious-liberal people won’t want to live … the situation right now is taking us to a place that will ultimately be a disaster. … I’m not calling for a civil war. I’m saying that if a situation comes where there is a dictatorship, we will have no choice and we will have to fight the dictators.”
Former IDF intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Amos Malka thinks that Netanyahu is a threat to Israel’s national security. On Aug. 20, Israeli physicist Shikma Bressler tweeted: “A line divides those who desire a normal state and those who wish for an extremist, messianic dictatorship.”
The depth was, perhaps, reached when on Aug. 12, Amiram Levin agreed with Yair Golan’s 2016 speech when he discerned “nauseating trends that took place in Germany specifically back then, 70, 80 and 90 years ago, and seeing evidence of them [today] here among us.”
Levin, the former head of the IDF Northern Command and deputy director of the Mossad spy agency, posited that Israel’s military is “rotten to its core,” due to its presence in Judea and Samaria. Asked directly if he saw similarities with Nazi Germany, Levin replied: “Of course … that’s the reality. It’s better to deal with it, even if it is hard, than to ignore it … there hasn’t been democracy there. There is absolute apartheid.”
All this while causing extreme havoc, interference in daily life and besmirching Israel’s economy on the ground they have not gained.
They shamed a main benefactor of the Kohelet Foundation and intended to chase others. They undermined parliamentary procedures in the Knesset. They held hundreds of thousands hostage on roads and railways. They withheld advertising revenue from a television channel and declared that they would seek to shut it down, one way or another. There is nothing liberal in their actions or words. Caroline Glick justifiably termed this Stalinist-like behavior.
And now, Yossi Klein Halevi, Daniel Gordis and Matti Friedman have launched an appeal to Diaspora Jewry. They are cleaving Jewish unity no less than the Chassidim versus the Mitnagdim, and lighting the match in preparation of the burning of the food stores at the end of the Second Temple period. They have elected to identify with the privileged elites—those whose economic success was based on the Histadrut’s hegemonic control over too many facets of Israel’s civil structure and who never got over the 1977 “election fiasco” when Menachem Begin came to power.
Will this current battle be—to paraphrase Edwin O’Connor’s novel and the Spencer Tracy film—the last hora of the remnants and inheritors of Mapai/Histadrut domination that exerted its firm grip on Israel’s politics, economy, culture, academia and military for half a century? Will there finally be real democracy, and freedom of thought and expression?